Ayanna Pressley. File Photo
Boston City Councilor and Democratic Congressional Candidate Ayanna Pressley spoke at a Pine Street Inn voter registration forum on Oct. 10, to encourage homeless people to vote.
Pine Street Inn, an organization which provides housing, food and job training for people experiencing homelessness, addressed misconceptions about voting rights and helped people fill out ballots. Pressley has maintained a close relationship with Pine Street Inn ever since she worked on veteran homelessness as an aide for former Senator from Massachusetts, and former Secretary of State John Kerry.
It was standing room only as many women gathered to listen to Pressley’s speech. Pressley told the crowd about her mother’s struggles, and her own sexual abuse. She also told the audience about her role model Shirley Chisholm, a woman she says highlights the importance of civic engagement by people who have been failed most profoundly by despite systemic inequities in government.
“People closest to the pain should be closest to power, driving and forcing change,” said Pressley. “However, Shirley noted that if [people in power] don’t have a seat at the table, bring your own chair. The way to amplify your story and hold government accountable is voting.”
After addressing the all woman audience, Pressley gave a similar speech at the Inn’s cafeteria, filled with homeless men. Standing without a podium and microphone, she emphasized her late grandfather’s lack of access to medical insurance despite his military service. She shook hands and talked with people after her speech.
Erica Harris, 51, a woman who has been homeless for four years, thought that Pressley’s speech was “beautiful and nice.” Harris is supporting Pressley in the hopes that she’ll help provide more job opportunities when she assumes office.
“I just want a job, even a part time job,” she said. “I don’t want to sit here all day.”
In a personal interview, Pressley noted that the 7th District had the largest concentration of individuals and families experiencing homelessness because of a confluence of systemic failures. According to the 2017 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report to Congress, approximately 17,565 people are homeless in Massachusetts, a 5.5 percent increase from 2010.
“People here aren’t working on living wage, have less money for savings, are unlawfully evicted, experience divorce and domestic violence, and suffer from costly medical bills,” Pressley said. “I wanted to remind [these people] that even though there are many reasons why they might feel small, they are powerful… Next time I come back, it will be more of a listening session, to hear what happened in their lives. Their stories will shape how I govern.”
Grace Alexander Hamilton, 21, a student intern for Pine Street, reported that she had collected 75 ballots in two days. “Our goal is 100,” she said. “We encourage people to register here even if they register somewhere else so that we can provide them with transportation to polling locations.”
Pressley will run uncontested on the November ballot, after her upset victory over10-term incumbent Michael Capuano. Running under the slogan “Change can’t wait,” she has been praised as a harbinger of change to traditional Boston politics and has seen strong voter turnout among Boston minority communities.
She affirmed her commitment to not only the homeless community but other marginalized people in her district.
“I have prioritized people who have been historically underserved marginalized, disenfranchised, people who are indigenous and experiencing homelessness are high in the food chain,” she said. “I’ve always done this work whether trafficked, invisible work forces, health care workers, hotel workers, any community that has felt underserved left out behind.”